Leading by Letting Go

By Knud Jorgensen

I remember when I was dean of a department for leadership, management and communication at a seminary in Ethiopia. I had a word of wisdom hanging on my wall. It encapsulates so much of what I believe about leadership:

Go to people
Start with what they know. Build on what they have.
When their task is fulfilled
And their work is accomplished, The people will say
to their leaders:
WE DID IT OURSELVES!

Training others to lead involves equipping them for service, showing them the way, focusing on core values, such as integrity and honesty, and encouraging them to use their natural and spiritual gifts – and then letting go. That was how Jesus and Paul trained leaders. That is how we have developed.

This week:

  • Who can we help to develop as leaders? How?
  • Where do we need to let go more?

For whose benefit?

By Jes Bates

‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.’

Uncompromising words from Philippians 2:3-4. What does it mean for us in practical terms? I suppose it is that we are not leaders for our own benefit, our own status, our own reputation. We are not doctors for our own benefit, our own status, our own reputation. We are not building houses, palaces or kingdoms for our own benefit. It is only our insecurities that make us seek these things. We do what we do; we are what we are; we have what we have for others, for service, for love, for compassion, for healing, for justice…for others.

We need to learn true humility, practice self-denial, sacrifice, giving and mercy. We will not lack anything except pride. As we realise that our real security is only found hidden in Christ, we will find that to be valued by God alone all we really need.

As we look ahead to this week, how can we create space for stillness to know peace beyond understanding? What do we need to do to take captive our human fears and know every day that God is with us and in us? What choices about how we live our lives this week will give God pleasure?

Working from rest

By Pieter Messelink

2014 was the hardest and darkest year in my life. Christmas 2013 I was diagnosed with burn- out. I had to stop work completely. This was incredibly difficult. I was so used to being busy, to have my head filled with stuff, to carrying on. I have always done so much in my own strength, relying on my own insight. But this proved unsustainable.

People around me challenged me to rest. The Holy Spirit confirmed this. The passage from Isaiah 30:15 has become very important to me: The holy Lord God of Israel had told all of you, “I will keep you safe if you turn back to me and calm down. I will make you strong if you quietly trust me.” —– Then you stubbornly said, “No! We will safely escape on speedy horses.”

I have learned so much during the past year as I tried to discover the roots of my unrest. As I came to the place of surrender, refusing the escape on speedy horses, I realised in a new way that God is there. After all, His name is Immanuel (God is with us, Jesus came to live among us). I know that I do not need to worry about tomorrow’s problems as there is a Heavenly Father who takes care of my life. I had thought that the Christian life was about being active, working hard and bearing fruit. I have learned that I can only bear fruit from a place of rest. In rest, God directs. In my busy life my challenge was to start living healthy rhythms of resting and working.

But it is not about resting from work. It is the other way round. It is about working from rest. I can only work effectively from a firm foundation of rest. This has released me and strengthened my relationship with my wife and children.

I am back to working full-time. As I practice working from rest, it seems I am actually bearing more fruit than before.

This week:

  • How will you establish a firm foundation of rest?
  • What challenges do you invite God in, to accompany you through this week?

The Interruptions are your work

I hate being interrupted when I am doing something. I like to be able to focus single- mindedly on the task in hand. But I remember having one of those ‘Ah ha’ moments when I read Henri Nouwen’s book, ‘Turn my mourning into dancing’. He relates:

While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.

When you stop and think about it, many of Jesus’ miracles were interruptions. In Mark 5: 21-34 Jesus was interrupted twice, once by Jairus who needed Jesus to stop what he was doing and come and heal his teenage daughter. And then on his way to see her, a woman who had been haemorrhaging for 12 years touched Jesus robe and interrupted him again…

What if we saw interruptions as the real purpose of our lives? What if we saw them as a gift – an opportunity to be open to what God would have us do in that moment?

This week:

  • Let’s be more ready to be interrupted and approach them in a more positive and creative way.

Who is praying for you?

By Niklas Eklöv

”God, I pray that mom and dad will have a good time at work”. It was Moses my 7-year old son who prayed for the day, as we try to do at breakfast time every day. A short prayer. I had heard it before. Actually every time he prays, it’s the same one. But that morning, the words came alive somehow. It was like I really understood what they meant. I was so encouraged that he prayed for me and my work. That prayer carried me the whole day and reminded me that having someone to pray for you is such an asset. Something I really need.

That’s why I miss Ingrid. She was an old spinster in our church in her 80’s. Always extremely energetic, although bodily frail. Passionate for God and always with her Bible close to her. For some reason, she had adopted me as her “prayer child” and she was always keen to hear how my work life was. I particularly remember one Sunday. Ingrid came up to me and said: “Oh, you should know Niklas. Jesus woke me up in the middle of the night and said I should pray for you and your work.” Ingrid is not with me any longer. But she taught me the importance of having people that could accompany me in prayers in challenging work or leadership situations.

This week, take time to reflect on:

  • Who is praying for you in your work situation or leadership role?
  • Who are you praying for?

Finding a critical friend

“Leadership is so hard”, I said to myself. I was reading the whiteboard in the meeting room. The last group had obviously been discussing leadership traits. The list went on and on. As I studied the long list of seemingly impossible demands, I wondered which of these traits are necessary and which ones are extras. I realised that perhaps one of the most important traits of a leader was not even on the list…

It is the ability to come to grips with his or her own flaws. It is only through accepting their own limitations that a leader can depend on others. Leaders who understand their limitations will tend to look for the potential of those he or she works with.

We all need people who encourage us and affirm us. We all enjoy positive feedback. But more precious still are people who will be honest with us about where we are failing. Leaders need people they can trust to give them honest feedback, however uncomfortable. Without such people, leaders will not see their blind spots. They will lose their humility. Their growth will be stunted.

This week:

  • Who do you trust to give you honest feedback?
  • How aware are you of your limitations? What are you doing about it?

Cultivating honest feedback

Recently, I have been disturbed by reading about the life of Saul. Saul entered kingship with a humble spirit. As he became more experienced as a leader, he let his position
go to his head. When pride and disobedience replaced his humility, he rejected God and His presence left him. Although Saul clung to his leadership position for another 15 years, he did so in his own strength and faced increasing difficulties.

All of us in any position of leadership face the real danger of pride – particularly when we are surrounded by people who want us to like them. We find it more difficult to see our faults and admit our mistakes. We begin to blame others more and more. Pride grows like a weed. Leading by human inclination alone can never replace leading by the spirit of God. It takes God’s wisdom to lead in a Godly manner.

There are practical steps we can take to avoid this. We need to actively seek out people who are honest enough to speak truthfully to us. Feedback, however painful, is a vital way to root out pride.

This week:

  • Who do you have at work who will give you honest feedback?
  • How can you make sure you hear honest feedback on a regular basis?

What makes us any different?

The email requested: “Please send us a message for our anniversary”. It came from a faith-based organisation I knew well from the Philippines. As I reflected, a few verses quickly leapt to mind, particularly those positive ones that promise reward and success. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9-11 “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap…” Luke 6:38. I like those verses!

But as I considered, I also thought about the many secular organisations who do good work. Many of them even do greater work with wider reach to the poor and the needy. Even people who don’t profess any faith believe that we must love and care for people to be able to succeed in what we do.

So what makes Christian organisations any different? Our motivations are always pretty mixed and often a bit more self-oriented that we dare admit. At our best I think it’s about worship – wanting to see God glorified. So I decided to send them the verse “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. Matthew 5:16.

This week, stop and think:

  • Why are you really doing what you are doing? What are your mixed motivations?
  • What can we do to refocus our work on glorifying God?

Turning leaders’ hearts 

by Priya Raj Kumar

“We have decided in principle to work together”… The words leaped at me from the email, heralding a new beginning and hope for the future. We had been working closely with a health care institution and a charitable organization to reach a consensus and work together.

The past few months had been tough. At times it seemed as if there was no way through. The endless series of negotiations, meetings, individual and collective reflections appeared to be going nowhere. It just left hurt egos and on-going frustrations. We gave our best in facilitating the process – we tried to keep the mission and the needs of the beneficiaries at the forefront of people’s minds. But in the end we withdrew and hoped and prayed for the best.

We do not always see how God works. It is not always at the time or in the way that we expect. But just as in this case, God does respond to prayer. We believe that God worked through the underlying political influences, emotions, vested interests and individual struggles of those involved. He ‘turned’ the hearts of the leaders and members of both organizations, pointing to a new direction. As Proverbs 21:1 says: ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turns it wherever he will.’

This week, let’s look for where God is working in our organisation:

  • How has God ‘turned’ your thoughts or others in unexpected ways?

Taking responsiblity to change

Change only occurs when someone, somewhere takes responsibility for a situation. Kurt Lewin, the father of organisational change theories, pointed out more than fifty years ago that the first stage in change involved ‘induced anxiety or guilt – a realisation that I am in some way responsible’. Instead of externalising blame onto other people, they realise that they are in some way responsible and that they can do something about it. Perhaps then I should not be so surprised that the OD exercise that has had the biggest impact on the organisations I work with is simply when I stop and ask people to answer:

  • How have I contributed to this situation which I complain about?

I tend to send people away on their own to prayerfully listen to God about how they have contributed to a situation. In dealing with hurt and frustrations it is important to get people out of a ‘blamestorming’ attitude. It allows God to bring conviction, not people to condemn each other. I have often found that changing people’s physical environment helps in this, suggesting they listen to God while going for a walk or sitting outside. The key is to create a safe space to consider the question in a meaningful way.

This week:

  • If we look at our own lives, where are we blaming others for a situation?
  • Let’s stop and ask ourselves: ‘How have I contributed to this?’